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Nunquam Continued


Tejeshwar Singh

MONSIEUR OR THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS
By Lawrence Durrell
Faber and Faber, 1974, 296, 1.50

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

Monsieur fascinates, is full of many interesting possibilities, yet does not quite succeed. Durrell, sadly, does not develop more fully the many curious, inter-linked themes that he interjects along the tortuous way of this novel within a novel. In fact, one often gets the feeling that Durrell himself—­like most of his characters—was never quite sure what shape this novel would take and literally im­provised as he went along. Durrell’s central concerns remain the same and Monsieur is very much in continuation of Nunquam. Once again he explores the worlds of erotic exper­ience, of reality and illusion with the implied con­clusion that there is no demarcation between the two: ‘By a singular paradox the passages that he knew would be regarded as unreal (‘people don’t behave like that’) would be the truth, and the rest which rang somehow true, the purest fabrication.’ Yet Durrell is merely repeating a well-known cliche though his vehicle for doing so is intriguing. The ruling idea of the novel is gnosticism as expressed by Akkad—a suave banker who is the spiritual head of a mysterious Egyptian (naturally) gnostic sect during his spare time. The sect belie­ves that, inhabiting as we do ‘this munching world of death and dissolution ... , this malefic world of destruction’, the Good God has to be dead and his place has been usurped by The Prince of Darkness. The only weapon against him is ‘the gnostic suicide by attrition, by a steady denial of the world as it is’. This suicide is not at your own hands but the timing and the executioner (who is invariably an­other initiate) are decided by Akkad. Till that time, Akkad recommends a return to nature in the area of sexual relationships, as man's 'central trauma' arose when he ‘had set astray the natural periodicity of sexuality and so forfeited his partner­ship with the animal kingdom’. Durrell uses this theme of gnosticism as the ruling motive for all his characters. Most of the action centres around Piers de Nogaret—the rather down-at-heel scion of a famous family amongst whose ancestors was a Knight Templar—inhabiting his medieval mansion, Verfeuille. Piers is in love with his sister Sylvie. Bruce, a British doctor, is in love with Piers but marries Sylvie who is suspected to be pregnant (but isn't). Sylvie goes gently mad early in the proceedings, finding it ...


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